The Portrait of a Lady By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapters 6-7

Summary

Isabel Archer is a person "of many theories; her imagination was remarkably active." She also possesses a fine perception and cares very much for knowledge. She is also determined to see the world as a place of brightness and free expansion, but "sometimes she went so far as to wish that she might find herself some day in a difficult position, so that she should have the pleasure of being as heroic as the occasion demanded." Among her friends is Henrietta Stackpole, a lady journalist of advanced ideas and established reputation. Isabel admires her friend's "courage, energy, and good-humour."

Isabel soon develops a strong friendship with Mr. Touchett. In fact, she spends long hours talking with him. He even wishes that she would ask some favor of him so that he could show her how much he thinks of her. Mr. Touchett spends a good part of his time explaining the English to Isabel. What Isabel doesn't like about the English is that they have "everything settled beforehand"; she likes more "unexpectedness."

As Ralph begins to know Isabel better, he thinks more and more of her. She seems to be intelligent and generous. "She gave one an impression of having intentions of her own," and Ralph wants to be present when she executes them. Somewhat later, Lord Warburton returns to Gardencourt to spend a couple of days. One night, when Mrs. Touchett tells Isabel that it is time for them to retire, Isabel asks to remain downstairs with Ralph and Lord Warburton, but her aunt informs her it is improper. Isabel can't understand this and becomes somewhat annoyed at her aunt's insistence over such small matters of decorum. Upon parting, however, Isabel tells her aunt that she always wants to be told when she is taking "too much liberty." It is only by knowing, that she will be able to choose whether or not to do something.

Analysis

One of James' techniques is to constantly develop his character by revealing additional facts about the character or by placing the character in a new situation. At the beginning of Chapter 6, James writes about Isabel's remarkably active imagination. She has a large perception and she cares for so many important things. These are some of the qualities which make Isabel a rather exceptional person and which attract other people to her.

James' use of foreshadowing is here illustrated. Isabel imagines herself someday in a situation which is difficult. In fact, she "went so far as to wish that she might find herself some day in a difficult position, so that she should have the pleasure of being as heroic as the occasion demanded." Such statements as these prepare the reader for Isabel's final sacrifice at the end of the novel.

Isabel and Mr. Touchett become very close friends in these early sections. This friendship prepares the reader and Isabel to accept the inheritance that he leaves her. At one point Mr. Touchett "wished she would ask" something of him, but Isabel never did. Thus, he is easily persuaded by his son to leave Isabel a large portion of money upon his death.

These early chapters also often present Isabel in conversation with Ralph Touchett. This occurs so that Ralph will be able to see Isabel's gifts and will want to have a hand in developing them. He presents directly the problem of the novel. He views Isabel as "intelligent and generous" with a tine free nature. "But what was she going to do with herself?" She seems to Ralph destined for some unusual course in life and determined to execute some high intentions of her own. He hopes, therefore, that "whenever she executes them" that he will be there to see. Consequently, through the development of the friendship and through Ralph's understanding of Isabel's potential for development, he will later conceive of the idea of providing her with the financial means to accomplish her ends.

James places Isabel in a new situation at the end of the seventh chapter. Isabel is about to commit an indiscretion when she is stopped by her aunt. Isabel doesn't understand the reason, but tells her aunt that it is good to know what is accepted and not accepted. This knowledge will then allow Isabel the chance to choose. Thus, at the end of the novel, Isabel is faced with a choice after having all the sides clearly revealed to her. Little scenes like this one help, therefore, to prepare the reader for Isabel's final decision.

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